Fictionaut is Flickr for writers. Which, really is to say that it’s a social network built around writing – sometimes drafts of novels, sometimes flash fiction – and so you go to Fictionaut to friend people, and leave comments, join groups, and submit stories, and so on so forth.
In the few months since Fictionaut’s release, a number of writers have described the service as a breath of fresh air. Some use it as a stage before publication – throw the drafts of your latest novel on Fictionaut, and you’re guaranteed a discerning audience. Most striking, however, is this love-letter by James Robinson, who says: “Fictionaut provides a round-the-clock, faithfully attentive audience. Bless its founders.” I saw that, thought for a bit, and emailed founder Jürgen Fauth for an invite.
Here are some thoughts, loosely connected, on Fictionaut.
I’m must say that I’m most surprised at the level of community on the site. The majority of writing websites that I know have communities that aren’t particularly … nice. Fictionaut’s, however, not only seem to be consistently nice, but tend to also refrain from commenting on works they do not like. (If the writing is horrible, you keep quiet and go somewhere else). The net effect is that you feel – when you’re writing there – to be part of this welcoming, supportive group. And that’s a rather refreshing thing to have.
From experience, I’m not sure if such ‘supportive writer culture’ can or will last forever. The culture exists naturally, at the moment, bubbling up from the community, but if at any point Fictionaut opens its doors to the general public, the influx of new members may seriously undermine the tone and pitch of the site. And that’s something I pray won’t happen, though I’m not sure how they’re going to do it. Fictionaut will have to be very careful when they expand; my hope is that they’d get the formula just right.
(I suspect that the solutions for maintaining quality discussion would have to be technological at heart, the same way Paul Graham has programmed several clever things into Hacker News, in order to maintain intelligent discourse. But how exactly this applies to writing I’m not particularly sure.)
Readability baked right in
Fictionaut forces its writers to publish stories according to a standardized, highly readable format. I posted a short story on the site and came away impressed with the quality of the user experience. Reader comments are placed in the sidebar, there’s a section for author notes, and the element placement leads me to suspect that everything you see on-site is deliberately designed to be that way.
There are little flourishes, too, like the beautiful popups that appear when you add someone as a friend, or when you’ve had a failed login:
I realize I’m a being a bit of a design geek here, but it’s hard to miss: someone has spent a lot of time making sure everything works intuitively on Fictionaut. I applaud his (or her) attention to detail.
Writing is good on Fictionaut. I sometimes spend hours on the site, reading newer, cooler, better stories – and I can say with some confidence that there’s a high standard to which most Fictionaut writers adhere to. At the very least, there’s a base level of competence that you don’t usually find anywhere else.
A large chunk of the site’s stories are flash fiction, followed by poetry, short stories, and a sprinkling of books-in-progress, posted chapter-by-chapter.
I should note that this quality didn’t happen by accident. Fictionaut’s founder, Jürgen Fauth, has a PhD in English/Creative Writing from USM’s Centre for Writers. The core community of the site was handpicked, I think – and new memberships are still dependent on invitations. Accordingly, the site currently leans towards literary fiction, and it feels – at times – like a literary magazine.
At the moment you either get in on invitation, or you apply for an invite. The application page leads me to suspect that Fictionaut enforces a filter for writers – you’ll either have to be competent enough, or established enough to get in (or you’ll have to know someone who’s already in, I suppose). This sounds scary and slightly elitist, but it probably explains the quality of the community and writing on the site today.
There’s a paragraph in the Venuszine Fictionaut review that says:
Pia Erhardt, a seasoned writer from New Orleans who recently had the “most favorited” story, “Ambulance,” agrees that it’s sometimes “terrifying” to post her unedited work, mostly because she respects what her fellow members are writing.
Quality begets quality, and so – again – I’m not particularly sure how they’re going to maintain this without the current invitation system.
Fictionaut’s a little like an oasis, at the moment: it’s quite rare to find a such a large community of good writers online – even at its current size – who’re so supportive of each other. Despite my doubts with Fictionaut’s scalability, I must add that writing and reading on the site has been one of the more enjoyable things I’ve done, lately.
And so – while I’m not sure if Fictionaut can keep it up, or even where they’re headed, I really am quite grateful for the site, for what they’re currently doing for writers. I merely hope that Fictionaut ages gracefully, without the worst of teething problems that so often follows a growing – and social – community. I wish Fictionaut well.